Tech Blog: Be Our Guest, Summer Show 2010

By Chris Armstrong, longtime techie.

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I'm signing off this series, unless I want to go all Time Trumpet, with the 2010 summer show Be Our Guest. Like YCSTB in 2009, this was originally meant to be a minimal show to minimise stress - miraculously, even though it ended up a little larger than I thought it would be, it was still fun, light hearted, fairly stress free and profitable. The concept of a Disney themed cabaret belonged to Thomas Newby, who originally proposed it a few years earlier and acted as musical director, artistic direction went to Sian Lomax with Chris Charlton assisting when he got back from his honeymoon in Jamaica (she went of her own accord). For this year I was elected back to the committee (after a two year stint on the executive committee) as P&P along with Peter Estdale, but unlike the year we did Patience I wasn't restricted to using GIMP on a dead computer and the results were much more impressive.

First, however, venue issues. We had to perform on campus as YCSTB was marred by being off-campus and away from anyone who would want to come The problems with using L/028 from the previous year still stood so we got in early and decided to risk using the Goodricke, now James, dining hall. This is slightly more out of the way than Langwith, but it didn't adversely affect us too much. We may have been too hasty discounting it in the past, but I don't think it would have worked well for a full musical production as well as Langwith. For the small and intimate cabaret setting, however, it was fine. Technical stuff was minimal and was restricted to just a PA and a few microphones stood at the front, but this turned out to be considerably more hassle than we needed.

New regulations from YUSU stipulated that all societies must use only two approved companies for all of their staging and technical equipment. This follows the removal of EntsTech, the YUSU owned group that supplied sound and lighting equipment for events. As such, we were unable to get Pete in to do the sound - although we haven't figured out how they would actually enforce this rule, we didn't want to risk it. There were also additional regulations that we were no longer allowed to buy our own equipment, even if it was cheaper than hiring (like a second hand LED lighting rig for £400) and we had to have operators from these two companies with it. So we were stuck paying something like £90 more than we needed per performance for a guy from JSS to sit in McQ's and watch the World Cup while Ben and Toby fiddled with sound levels themselves. The lack of lighting was also fine, and certainly better than mine and Ben's idea to knock up something ad hoc with some desk lamps.

The original idea involved grabbing the folding black staging that was in the Jack Lyons Concert Hall but the music department never returned our calls on that. Glorious hindsight, however, says that we didn't need it anyway and would have just caused problems with fitting the cast on (I used it in Die Fledermaus a week later, there isn't that much of it). Set was going to involve me borrowing a lit backdrop that a friend of mine has for events but the YUSU regulations described above put an end to that pretty quick. As it was lighting and stage equipment, even though it was free and I imagine probably because it was free, we weren't allowed to use it. So in the end the set was improvised on the day - we literally had no idea what it would be until we rolled into J/Hall at 5 pm so it was one of the more exciting opportunities to bodge and be creative. The end result involved pulling out as many of the usable new flats as we could (somehow they were all damaged in the get out for the last show…) and erecting a backdrop. Lacking paint of any description, we instead pulled out the purple orchestra pit curtain and draped it over the flats, hanging it in a tasteful manner and filling the gaps with some black poster paper that we found in the container. The entire thing was just held up with gaffa tape, although we had to stick pins through the tape to secure it to the curtain material properly. The stage right and left area was extended with some additional flats as well as a temporary one that was left over from Elysium so the door to backstage was hidden and the band had a nice little area to occupy. We also pulled out the chapel doors from The Sorcerer and hung a curtain so we had at least one decent entrance. I got in early on the Saturday and, using the last of the white poster paint and a fine brush, replicated the swirling pattern from the posters over the exposed black flats. This served two purposes, firstly it looked pretty cool, secondly it hid the fact that the hardboard was damaged and had just been repaired with some masking tape. The end result was pretty swish, doubly so considering we had no idea what we were going to do until the last minute.

In the end Be Our Guest proved that we could do a high quality show with very little hassle (well, apart from that one off glitch involving YUSU being a bit stupid). So given that we spent almost no money on it apart from photocopying, got us invited back to do a few more shows when we toured the show to Leeds, it was a 100% success.

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